It is no wonder toddlers need to nap. Tom is a constant ball of energy, every moment he is awake. He bounces and climbs and runs around. He dances, pounces on his blankie and, just when you think he’s going to stop for a moment, he’s off again, marching down the corridor whilst kicking a balloon and singing his own peculiar version of head, shoulders, knees and toes (he can’t do any of the words and only manages ‘knees and toes’ and ‘mouth of the movements). I love every moment of it.
I had a perplexing conversation with a mum I know a few months back. She was lamenting that her 18 month-old son didn’t yet have the attention span to sit through an entire tv show. I tried to be sympathetic (because I’m a pushover), but what I was really thinking was ‘why?’
Why would she want her kid to sit still? I couldn’t be prouder that mine is in perpetual motion. Granted, a bit of peace and quiet is nice sometimes and if Tom was a less good sleeper I might feel differently. He’s pretty good at independent play too (RIE completely to credit for that), so it’s not too overwhelming.
And anyway, physical play is pretty damn important. Despite the scary figures on childhood obesity, I hope that most of us don’t have to worry too much about our kids being fat at Tom’s young age (he’s currently 17 months old). But encouraging physical play, ideally outdoors, is a way of building good habits right from the start.
There are a bunch of other benefits too. Physical play helps kids to learn about their bodies – what they can do and what they can’t. They develop their muscles and gross motor control. They learn to judge risk. They develop better balance and coordination. And they gain important experiences that teach them about the world – because, despite all our intellect and our technology, humans are still physical beings in a physical world.*
Physical play with other people can also be really important. Tom loves to be chased, to be picked up and spun around, to use me or Mr Techno as a climbing frame. He loves when we pretend, very gently, to wrestle with him. He loves me nuzzling him with my head. He isn’t great at giving kisses still but will rest his head on mine and stare into my eyes in a physical motion that is just as loving.
There’s a great exploration of this in Larry Cohen’s book ‘The Playful Parent‘. I didn’t necessarily love the book – it mainly explores play as therapy and seemed to miss some of the joy of playing just because, not because it is a teaching moment or a way to work through big feelings. Though of course play can do both those things too. But I did like most of the book and it had some really thought-provoking things to say about the importance of ‘rough-housing’ – there’s a summary here.
So hurray for running, jumping, wrestling and dancing. And for what they teach our kids.
*Sources and further reading:
http://www.early-years.org/parents/docs/learning-through-physical-play.pdf (warning: opens a PDF)